The more things change, the more the talking points stay the same. Just swap teachers for airplane passengers, and watch a silly sitcom punchline morph into real presidential policy.
The more things change, the more the talking points stay the same. Just swap teachers for airplane passengers, and watch a silly sitcom punchline morph into real presidential policy.
War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilyich — many of us have felt the influence, to the good or the ill of our own reading and writing, of Leo Tolstoy. But whose influence did Leo Tolstoy feel the most? As luck would have it, we can give you chapter and verse on this, since the novelist drew up just such a list in 1891, which would have put him at age 63.
A Russian publisher had asked 2,000 professors, scholars, artists, and men of letters, public figures, and other luminaries to name the books important to them, and Tolstoy responded with this list divided into five ages of man, with their actual degree of influence ("enormous," "v. great," or merely "great") noted.
It comes as something of a rarity, up to now only available transcribed in a post at Northampton, Massachusetts' Valley Advocate:
WORKS WHICH MADE AN IMPRESSION
Childhood to the age of 14 or so
The story of Joseph from the Bible - Enormous
Tales from The Thousand and One Nights: the 40 Thieves, Prince Qam-al-Zaman - Great
The Little Black Hen by Pogorelsky - V. great
Puskin’s poems: Napoleon - Great
Age 14 to 20
Matthew’s Gospel: Sermon on the Mount - Enormous
Sterne’s Sentimental Journey - V. great
Rousseau Confessions - Enormous
Emile - Enormous
Nouvelle Héloise - V. great
Pushkin’s Yevgeny Onegin - V. great
Schiller’s Die Räuber - V. great
Gogol’s Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect - Great
"Viy" [a story by Gogol] - Enormous
Dead Souls - V. great
Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches - V. great
Druzhinin’s Polinka Sachs - V. great
Grigorovich’s The Hapless Anton - V. great
Dickens’ David Copperfield - Enormous
Lermontov’s A Hero for our Time, Taman - V. great
Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico - Great
Age 20 to 35
Goethe. Hermann and Dorothea - V. great
Victor Hugo. Notre Dame de Paris - V. great
Tyutchev’s poems - Great
Koltsov’s poems - Great
The Odyssey and The Iliad (read in Russian) - Great
Fet’s poems - Great
Plato’s Phaedo and Symposium (in Cousin’s translation) - Great
Age 35 to 50
The Odyssey and The Iliad (in Greek) - V. great
The byliny - V. great
Victor Hugo. Les Misérables - Enormous
Xenophon’s Anabasis - V. great
Mrs. [Henry] Wood. Novels - Great
George Eliot. Novels - Great
Trollope, Novels - Great
Age 50 to 63
All the Gospels in Greek - Enormous
Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) - V. great
Henry George. Progress and Poverty - V. great
[Theodore] Parker. Discourse on religious subject - Great
[Frederick William] Robertson’s sermons - Great
Feuerbach (I forget the title; work on Christianity) [“The Essence of Christianity”] - Great
Pascal’s Pensées - Enormous
Epictetus - Enormous
Confucius and Mencius - V. great
On the Buddha. Well-known Frenchman (I forget) [“Lalita Vistara”] - Enormous
Lao-Tzu. Julien [S. Julien, French translator] - Enormous
The writer at the Valley Advocate, a Tolstoy aficionado, came across the list by sheer happenstance. "On my way to work, I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk," they write: a biography of Tolstoy with "something cooler inside": a "yellowed and fragile New York Times Book Review clipping" from 1978 containing the full list as Tolstoy wrote it. "Gold," in other words, "for this wannabe Tolstoy scholar." If you, too count yourself among the ranks of wannabe Tolstoy scholars — or indeed credentialed Tolstoy scholars — you'll no doubt find more than a few intriguing selections here. And if you simply admire Tolstoy, well, get to reading: learn not how to make the same things your idols made, I often say, but to think how they thought. Not that any of us have time to write War and Peace these days anyway, though with luck, we do still have time to read it — along with The Thousand and One Nights, David Copperfield, The Odyssey, and so on. Many of these works you can find in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.
Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.
Note: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in July, 2014.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!
- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Could it be a case of authorial oversight that all subsequent rules are exclusively concerned with such practical matters as dress and fight duration?
Given the macho reputation of both the book and the film adaptation, it seems like the third rule of Fight Club should be: you DO NOT talk about the fact that a fair number of Edwardian ladies were badass bare knuckle fighters.
Because doing so might diminish Fight Club’s street cred just a bitsy…
Filmmaker (and popular audiobook narrator) Emily Janice Card has a good deal of fun in Jane Austen's Fight Club, above, marrying Palahniuk’s tropes to the social mores of England’s Regency period.
“No corsets, no hat pins and no crying,” Tyler Durden stand-in Lizzie instructs the eager young ladies in her circle. Soon, they’re proudly sporting bruises beneath their bonnets and stray blood spots on their tea dresses.
While young women of the fictional Bennet sisters’ social class refrained from brutal fisticuffs, there’s ample evidence of female combatants from the proletarian ranks. They fought for money, and occasionally to settle a disagreement, training hard for weeks in advance.
Their bouts drew spectators to the amphitheater owned by boxing promoter James Figg, and the marvelously named Hockley in the Hole, a seedy establishment whose other attractions included bearbaiting, bullbaiting, and fighting with broadswords and cudgels.
The female fist fighters challenged each other with paid notices in local papers, like this one from “championess and ass-driver” Ann Field of Stoke Newington:
Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass-driver, well known for my abilities, in boxing in my own defense wherever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs. Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing for 10 pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgment that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the satisfaction of all my friends.
Mrs. Stokes promptly announced her readiness to come out of retirement:
I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing- woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.
Rather than keeping mum on Fight Club, these female pugilists shared Muhammad Ali's flare for drumming up interest with irresistibly cocky wordplay.
References to adversaries fighting in “close jacket, short petticoats, and holland drawers … with white stockings and pumps" suggest that the adversaries played to the spectators’ prurience, though not always. Unlike the 20th-century stunt of bikini clad jello wrestling, sex appeal was not obligatory.
In a chapter devoted to public entertainments, sports and amusements, Alexander Andrews, author of The Eighteenth Century or Illustrations of the Manners and Customs of Our Grandfathers, documents how the Merry Wives of Windsor, a crew comprised of “six old women belonging to Windsor town” took out an ad seeking “any six old women in the universe to outscold them.”
On June 22nd, 1768, a woman called Bruising Peg "beat her antagonist in a terrible manner" to win a new chemise, valued at half a guinea.
In 1722, Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market, resolved to give her challenger, Elizabeth Wilkinson, “more blows than words,” promising to deliver “a good thumping.” Both parties agreed to hold a half-crown in their fists for the duration of the fight. William B. Boulton, author of 1901’s Amusements of Old London, speculates that this was a practical measure to minimize scratching and hair-pulling.
Time travel to an 18th-century female bare knuckles fight via Female Single Combat Club’s exhaustive coverage, Sarah Murden’s excellent analysis of John Collet’s painting, The Female Bruisers, above, or Jeremy Freeston’s short documentary available on YouTube.
This is not an easy post to write. I am going to talk about something personal. Yes, it’s time to discuss underrated albums, a term that can mean so many things to so many people that we might as well talk about underrated dreams. But dreams can be shared, at least in pop culture and the subcultural caverns beneath it. And people can share opinions about an underrated album, especially in the disparate communities of the internet, where devotees can find each other easily.
When I was younger this was not so easy. One might discover an album at a local indie record shop and buy it just for the cover, having no idea what lay within. There were no songs on YouTube, Spotify, or iTunes. (My generation’s walking to school in the snow, uphill both ways.) One made chance discoveries at live shows and in the pages of print magazines. In such primitive conditions, it was easy to find records that you and only you loved, from start to finish, sometimes believing you must be the only person who had ever heard them.
As Richard Metzger puts it at Dangerous Minds, in writing about an underrated EP from a highly underrated band, "In the pre-Internet days, record collection was more than merely a hobby. It was almost like... a way of life."
I take this little nostalgic trip to say that for me, underrated albums tend to fold into the category of underrated artists. Discovering them wasn’t a matter of cred—not at first. It was a secretive and private act, a tiny adolescent rebellion against the bad taste of friends and family. Given such musical solipsism, I find it hard to gauge what makes an album underrated. You’ll find lists aplenty, and they are odysseys of discovery for the adventurous. Lists filled with lesser-known records from very well-known artists. Lists made of picture galleries. Lists quoting such high-cred stars as Kurt Cobain, Björk, and Arcade Fire.
As for myself, I could go on for days, but humbly offer here a few eclectic albums that—start to finish—have captivated me over the years for various reasons. At the top, hear “Which Witch,” from TK Webb’s criminally underrated 2006 Phantom Parade, an album of plaintive laments that sounds like a truck stop ashtray—hypnotic roadhouse country blues played by the Velvet Underground with vocals parked somewhere between Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart.
Below it, hear a short excerpt from what is very likely the strangest live album ever recorded: Wire’s 1981 Document & Eyewitness. It’s hard to imagine listening to it without the liner notes in hand, but the overdubbed conversation on “Everything’s Going to Be Nice” will give you a taste of what the concert was like. The band, writes Pitchfork, “had pushed their art-student tendencies to the breaking point, turning what was expected to be a pogo-fueled punk show into a Dadaist, performance-art spectacle complete with Morris-dancing bells and a live goose.”
This track represents a brief interlude in the midst of recordings that capture the sound of a band taking itself apart onstage before a bewildered audience clamoring for the hits (or, rather, the hit, “I2XU” from their classic debut Pink Flag.)
In the Spotify playlist above, in addition to these two albums, hear former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan’s Bubble Gum, English rockabilly revivalist Holly Golightly & Dan Melchoir’s Desperate Little Town, Afro-Turkish singer Esmeray’s 2013 collection of hits En lyileriyle Esmeray (hits in her native land, maybe, but sadly not well known in the English-speaking world), post-rock pioneers Bark Psychosis's 1994 Hex; the alternatively hypnotic and hysterical Canadian indie rockers Frog Eyes' 2002 debut The Bloody Hand; Pissed Jeans' mostly terrifying Hope for Men; Gillian Welch's trad folk/country Soul Journey (don't miss closer "Wrecking Ball"); and the Staple Singers underrated early albums Uncloudy Day & Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Depending on my mood, these are albums I listen to straight through—and think, while doing so, everyone should hear this. But of course the list is biased. Like telling people about your dreams, telling people about your favorite, underrated albums can never approach the experience of listening to them yourself. Nonetheless, reader, a personal question: what would you put on your list? What albums do you want fellow OC readers to put on their radar? Tell us in the comments below. And if we get enough good replies, who knows, maybe we'll pull together a big meta playlist we all could share.
Worth a quick mention: The University of Chicago Press has made available online -- at no cost -- the first three volumes of The History of Cartography. Or what Edward Rothstein, of The New York Times, called "the most ambitious overview of map making ever undertaken." He continues:
People come to know the world the way they come to map it—through their perceptions of how its elements are connected and of how they should move among them. This is precisely what the series is attempting by situating the map at the heart of cultural life and revealing its relationship to society, science, and religion…. It is trying to define a new set of relationships between maps and the physical world that involve more than geometric correspondence. It is in essence a new map of human attempts to chart the world.
If you head over to this page, then look in the upper left, you will see links to three volumes (available in a free PDF format). My suggestion would be to look at the gallery of color illustrations for each book, links to which you'll find below. The image above, appearing in Vol. 2, dates back to 1534. It was created by Oronce Fine, the first chair of mathematics in the Collège Royal (aka the Collège de France), and it features the world mapped in the shape of a heart. Pretty great.
Volume 2: Part 1
Volume 2: Part 2
Volume 2: Part 3
Volume 3: Part 1
Volume 3: Part 2
If you buy Vol 1. on Amazon, it will run you $248. As beautiful as the book probably is, you'll probably appreciate this free digital offering. The series will be added to our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in August, 2015.
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You can't understand human culture in the 21st century without understanding American culture, and as anyone who's spent time in most any major U.S. city knows, you certainly can't understand American culture without understanding Latino culture. I write this while traveling in Los Angeles, a city that makes that point with particularly impressive force, but just a few moments with an overview of Latino art will underscore the vitality it has provided America, and thus the world. You could do little better for such an overview than the Google Cultural Institute's brand new Latino Cultures in the U.S. project, a sizable free digital archive of Latino art and artifacts of Latino history.
Forbes' Veronica Villafañe quotes Google and Youtube Head of Hispanic Communications Jesús García as describing the archive as "a labor of love for many Googlers and partner institutions. It was a project that was more than a year in the making and took a small army to help digitize the 2,500 new artworks and curate 69 new exhibits."
As a whole it offers "over 4,300 archives and artworks — including Diego Rivera murals — related to the Latino experience in the U.S., multimedia exhibits in English and Spanish and virtual tours of historic sites, as well as profiles of key Latino figures, such as Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor."
Google Head of Latino Community Engagement Laura Marquez notes that it also allows you to "visit some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the U.S. — the homes to and centers of Latino culture— by way of historic photographs or unmissable locations on Google Street View, all from your phone." You'll also find "ultra-high resolution images of iconic Latino murals, such as Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry from the Detroit Institute of Arts." Using the formidable exploratory platform of Google Earth, the project has also created a whole Latino Murals in the U.S. section, from Rivera's work in Detroit to José Clemente Orozco's Prometheus in California to the Miami Artisans' Freedom Tower mural at Miami Dade College.
You can also browse the Latino Cultures in the U.S. Project's offerings by form, including dance, film, music, and style. And though the designs of Oscar de la Renta, the songs of Gloria Estefan, the paintings of Frank Romero (and, of course, lowriders) have drawn the interest of many a non-Latino toward Latino culture, what has done quite so much outreach as the food? Google's project even covers that territory with content like an editorial feature on "Fast Food, Tortillas, and the Art of Accepting Yourself" by Javier Cabral, a food critic based, and well known, in — where else? — Los Angeles.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
In the U.S., recent electoral events with which we’re all quite familiar have prompted one particular radical re-evaluation of the political system, among many others: we find everyone from high-profile Constitutional scholars to anonymous commenters engaged in debates about the necessity, or democratic legitimacy, of the Electoral College. While the debate may not be new, it has reached an urgent intensity, and happens to occur at a time when everything seems up for grabs. When Neil Freeman proposed redrawing state borders on his presciently-named design site Fake is the New Real back in 2012, he created the map above (view it in a larger format here) to evenly distribute the country’s population. He did so with the disclaimer, “this is an art project, not a serious proposal.”
The idea might get a more serious reception these days. Nonetheless, the inertia of tradition hasn't lessened any. Not only is it totally unlikely that states would ever be redrawn and renamed, but the Electoral College is also a founding institution, emerging at the first Constitutional Convention when James Madison first proposed it in 1787. Since then, PBS’s Kamala Kelkar wrote on November 6th, 2016, “the Electoral College system has cost four candidates the race after they received the popular vote.” Two days later that number went up to five.
Still, whether one deems it necessary, superfluous, or deeply pernicious, it's hardly controversial to note that this electing body comes from an era so unlike our own as to be unrecognizable. A time when, as some founders argued, writes Akhil Reed Amar at Time, “ordinary Americans across a vast continent [lacked] sufficient information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential candidates.” This might still be the case for various reasons. But putting aside manufactured filter bubbles and vast disinformation campaigns, most Americans now have instant access, if they want it, to more information than they know what to do with.
When we look at the primary sources, we find the actual reason for the Electoral College: slavery. Madison, notes Kelkar, “now known as the ‘Father of the Constitution,’” was a slaveholding Virginian who worried vocally that Northern states would have a decided advantage, since upwards of 40% of the population in Southern states consisted of enslaved people, who, of course, would not be casting votes. Madison’s proposition included the infamous and dehumanizing “three-fifths compromise,” which historian Paul Finkelman argues enabled Thomas Jefferson to win over John Adams in 1800.
Despite this history, most people are taught that the system arose solely to “balance the interests,” Amar writes, “of high-population and low-population states.” This sounds like a politically neutral intention. But Freeman doesn’t question the legitimacy of the Electoral College, calling it “a time-honored, logical system” that he thinks should be preserved. And yet, he writes, “it’s obvious that reforms are needed.”
“The fundamental problem of the electoral college,” Freeman writes, “is that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence. The largest state is 66 times as populous as the smallest and has 18 times as many electoral votes. This increases the chance for Electoral College results that don't match the popular vote.” This is hardly the only issue. But is Freeman’s proposal a more stable solution to major flaws in U.S. national elections than simply scrapping the Electoral College altogether? He makes the following argument, in a series of bullet-pointed advantages. His map:
Freeman based the map--featuring new states like "Mesabi," "Ogallala," "Big Thicket," "Chinati," and "King"--on data from the 2010 Census, which, incidentally, actually did change the distribution of electors in 2012. The Census "records a population of 308,745,538 for the United States," he notes, "which this map divides into 50 states, each with a population of about 6,175,000."
He does seem to downplay the disadvantages, listing only two concerns about duplicated county names and a “shift in state laws and procedures.” Freeman doesn’t mention the high likelihood of civil war or widespread social unrest if such a massive redistribution of the country’s state populations were ever attempted. Given the examples of pitched legal battle fought daily over congressional redistricting of gerrymandered states, it’s also probable nothing like this plan would ever make it through the courts. Considered as an “art project” or thought experiment in civics, however, who knows? It just might work….
via Mental Floss
Joan Baez was already heralded as the “Queen of Folk” by the time Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan arrived in New York City. Many things brought him to the burgeoning folk scene there, but Baez was the siren who called to a young Dylan through his television set long before he met her. He was smitten. He would write much later in Chronicles, Vol. 1, that she had “A voice that drove out bad spirits... she sang in a voice straight to God... Nothing she did didn’t work.”
And for a couple of years they became collaborators, partners, lovers, and folk royalty. It was Baez who introduced a then-unknown Dylan to the crowds at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. But soon, fortunes changed: Dylan became an unstoppable cultural force and Baez would be on the receiving end of several betrayals, artistic and otherwise.
An excerpt from an Earl Scruggs documentary, the cute video above, shot by David Hoffman and posted on his YouTube channel, shows Baez imitating Dylan after she sings a verse of “It Ain’t Me Babe”. (She does this while holding her baby and trying to get it to drink from a pitcher, too.) A 16-year-old Ricky Skaggs—not looking anything like a teenager—accompanies her on guitar.
For one thing she does a crackin’ good Dylan impression. The other is watching the emotion behind that impression—there’s a lot of history there, a bit of sadness, a bit of nostalgia, nothing bitter or mean, but evidence of a shared life together that once existed.
By this time in 1972, Dylan’s voice had matured. The crooner on Nashville Skyline was a different person from the man on Blonde on Blonde, all those rough corners sanded off and the register deepened. Yet when anyone imitates Dylan, they head on back to those mid-‘60s albums, the “braying beatnik” as writer Rob Jones calls him. (Jones posits that Dylan has had eight particular voices during his career.)
Remember, as Slate’s Carl Wilson points out, when Dylan first started out, he was commended for his voice, and was considered “one of the most compelling white blues singers ever recorded,” by Robert Shelton, who wrote the copy on the back cover of Dylan’s 1962 debut album. He came from a tradition of both Woody Guthrie and Howlin’ Wolf, and several other idiosyncratic singers who didn’t sound like Frank Sinatra. (Although Dylan’s last few projects have been covers from the Great American Songbook.)
Dylan himself, in a 2015 award acceptance speech, turned his ire towards critics of his voice:
Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. [Why] don’t they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can’t carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I’ve never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free? … Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters? … “Why me, Lord?” I would say that to myself.
Fast forward to the present and Dylan’s voice shows the wear of years of performing and years of indulgence. It’s gravelly and phlegmatic, smoky and whiskey-soaked, but Wilson points out: “Even the rasp and burr of his late voice, several keen listeners have noticed, is very much like a more genuine copy of the old-bluesman timbre he pretentiously affected as a young man. It’s almost like this is what he’s been aiming toward.”
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.
Last summer we checked in with the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project, a volunteer effort to digitize thousands of 78rpm records—the oldest mass-produced recording medium. Drawing on the expertise and vast holdings of preservation company George Blood, L.P., the ARChive of Contemporary Music, and over 20 more institutions from around the world, the project aims to save the recorded sounds of the past, and not only those that have come down to us through the efforts of highly selective curators. What we think of as the sound of the early 20th century—the blues, jazz, country, classical, ragtime, gospel, bluegrass, etc.—only represents a popular sample.
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle wants to widen our sonic appreciation of the period, and include everything, “Midwest, different countries, different social classes, different immigrant communities and their loves and fears.”
This massive archive will eventually number in the millions, up to 3 million recordings, to be exact, and continues apace at the rate of about 5,000 new uploads per month.
Last August, the recordings in the archive numbered over 25,000. Now, the Great 78 Project contains more than 78,000 and counting digital transfers of fragile 78rpm records—everything from Prokofiev to the Carter Family (further up) to Mississippi John Hurt from 1928 (above) to international folk dances to field recordings of animal sounds.
The collected works of Al Jolson, spanning the years 1911 to 1926, appear (above), as does a fascinating collection from Argentina, brought to the U.S. by Tina Argumedo, who began collecting 78s in the 30s and continued to do so for another 20 years before moving to the States. Her digitized collection of almost 700 records “comprises primarily tango music, with boleros, sambas, mambo, and other dance music,” like the Argentine swing of Dajos Bela y su Orquestra from 1932 below.
As we noted in our previous post, the utmost care has gone into preserving the original sound of these records, with a variety of digital transfers made with different vintage styluses to represent the differences in playback systems. The process also preserves all the original records’ crackle and hiss—sometimes the music seems to swim below the surface noise, which only enhances the effect of hearing, transported through time, music from 80, 90, and 100 years ago and more.
Enter the 78 archive here.
Drummer Keith Moon was surely the most kinetic member of The Who—which is really saying a lot—but he was not the band’s best musician, even if he is routinely named one of the best drummers of all time. Moon knew the appeal of his playing often lay in the fact that it was like no one else’s: he described himself as the “greatest Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.” Nothing in rock approached his untamed excess, modeled after the far more disciplined flights of his hero, Gene Krupa.
But if the band “can be said to have an instrumental virtuoso,” writes Chris Jisi at Drum! magazine, "it is John Alec Entwistle,” their true solid center (they called him “The Ox”) and the perfect rhythmic foil to Moon, who “could sound like a drum kit falling downstairs,” Entwistle says. The bass player not only kept time, he tells Jisi, since Moon didn’t, and followed Moon’s “mess of cymbals” and “all over the place” snare drum, but he also filled in for a rhythm guitarist as Pete Townshend slashed away.
He kept his bass riffs relatively simple, he had to, and he “added top end or treble… to cut through the rest of the noise.” It works, for sure. He is rightfully singled out as one of the greatest rock bass players ever for his phenomenal skill and poise.
A lesser player trying to compete with Moon’s wall of drums and Townshend’s massive power chords might disappear entirely. Entwistle always stands out. His comments about Moon’s playing might sound disparaging, but they come off in context as honest and accurate, as do his descriptions of his own playing.
Entwistle suggests he wouldn’t be the player he became without Moon and the rest of the band. “We constructed our music to fit ‘round each other,” he says. “It was something very peculiar that none of us played the same way as other people.” In their best moments, some parts “slid together by magic and were gone forever.” This is the essence, really, of rock and roll, the serendipitous transcendence that arises from wildly colliding waves of sound.
But such controlled chaos can require, especially in a band like The Who, one cool, well-trained virtuoso who cannot be ruffled, no matter what, whose perfection looks effortless and who never breaks a sweat. The eternal archetype of that player is John Entwistle. At the top, hear Entwistle’s isolated bass in a live take of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” (He comes in at 1:45, after a much-extended intro). Below it, you’ll easily pick out his every note in the studio version. And further up, after another extended synthesizer intro, hear him solo at 1:25 on “Baba O'Riley,” also live at Shepperton Studios in 1978. (The studio recording is above).
And just above, in one of his most energetic performances, hear him play a live version of “Pinball Wizard” (starting at 0:36). And then catch one more jaw-dropping solo, just for good measure, recorded live at Royal Albert Hall.
Entwistle is sometimes compared to Jimi Hendrix, but in some ways, The Ox came first with his fuzzed-out sound. The mild-mannered player “pioneered the use of feedback in music and smashing his instrument,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock, “with Jimi Hendrix following suit after seeing Entwistle do it.” For all his reserved English coolness, Entwistle first pushed the boundaries of loudness, “using 200 watts of power when most bands used 50,” just one of the reasons, as you’ll hear in these tracks, for his other nickname: “Thunderfingers.”